America is talking about teen pregnancy. Brittney Spears’ baby sister Jamie Lynn, all of 16, is pregnant. The father, her 19-year-old boyfriend Casey Alridge, who may or may not face statutory rape charges for having sex with a minor, is someone she met at church.
Then there is "Juno," a satirical comedy about a troubled but well-meaning 16-year-old who gets pregnant and decides to give her baby to a childless couple who later decide to divorce.
It has been fascinating to watch the debate sparked by these two moms-to-be, with the principal question in each scenario being, "Why didn’t she use protection?"
I asked myself what kind of protection they were referring to. The kind that prevents pregnancy and STDs? But what of the protection from the psychological, emotional, and spiritual scarring that early sex engenders? What of the studies that demonstrate a direct link between teen depression and suicide, and sex, such as that by the Heritage Foundation, in turn based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, which found that about ‘5 percent of sexually active girls say they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time? Amazing. Sixteen-year-old girls are having sex and the world is largely OK with it so long as they use condoms.
Indeed, I have met many parents who, while preferring that their teenage daughters remain celibate, still take them to doctors to get the pill in basic acceptance of the fact that their 16-year-olds will be having sex. But are these otherwise well-meaning parents not aware of the many studies that demonstrate a direct correlation between an absent father figure and teen girls surrendering their bodies to boys who don’t love them in order to obtain masculine validation (which I chronicled extensively in my book "Hating Women")? Are these parents familiar with the studies that draw a direct link between divorce and overexposure to sexual partners prior to marriage? The more people you have sex with, the more of an expert you become in the opposite sex. And the definition of an expert is someone who can spot flaws, which goes some way in explaining why men and women find it so difficult these days to find an adequate partner.
As far as girls in their mid-teens enjoying sex or exercising their free choice to have it, let’s not fool ourselves. Studies I cited in my book "Kosher Sex" show that almost 90 percent of girls who lose their virginity in their early to mid-teens regret it. So why do they do it? Overwhelmingly, because they were pressured by boyfriends who made them feel that if they didn’t put out, they’d be out. The classic refrain "if you really loved me you’d do this for me" is something that countless young girls have heard from silver-tongued Don Juans who know instinctively how to penetrate the armor of a vulnerable teen. And in an age where young women suffer from pitifully low self-esteem and in a culture that makes them feel that their looks are subpar, many young girls will compromise themselves in order to feel loved.
It was interesting to read in one of the press reports that Jamie Lynn’s father, Jamie Spears, was furious that his daughter both got pregnant and sold her story to OK! magazine. I do not wish to judge him. But it seems fair to ask, "Why the anger from a distance? Why were you not present to protect your daughter from a relationship that was getting far too serious? You should be the principal man in your young daughter’s life." Mothers cannot be as effective in protecting their daughters from men simply because they are not men, and therefore do not know how the male mind works. That’s why fathers must be actively involved in their daughters’ lives in order both to provide a level of immunity to their daughters from being desperate for a boy’s attention and to give their daughters a noble standard by which to judge the men who want to date them.
Sex is the most powerful of all human activities. It brings in its wake a tidal wave of emotion, enough to cement two total strangers together as bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh. But when that wave hits you, you had better be pretty darn anchored or there is no telling where you might wash up. That’s why sex should be practiced by adults only, and within the confines of a devoted and secure relationship where there is no possibility for abuse. It’s way too intimate for strangers, and it’s way too overpowering for kids, even big kids like teenagers.
Some will say that I am being too harsh on young men like Jamie Lynn’s boyfriend. Perhaps he does love her. Perhaps he is committed to her. But the test will be whether or not he wishes to marry her and ensure that this very young woman is not left to raise his child on her own. If he truly loves her, then he will not hesitate to take himself off the market and devote himself to her. And this child, like all other children, deserves a stable and nurturing environment, and few would dispute that the best such environment is marriage.
The New York Times, in a front-page story, raised the question as to whether Jamie Lynn can continue to star in her Nickelodeon TV show since parents will now see her as a bad role model. Fair enough. But it seems incredible that the spotlight in such cases is usually focused on the girl rather than her boyfriend. We are not raising a generation of gentlemen in America who respect women enough not to have sex with them before they are ready.
That’s why the scourge of teen sex will be among us until we inspire dads to be intimately involved in the raising of their children and raise boys to respect and cherish women as their equals rather than as a means to their more selfish ends.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s book "The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him" will be published in January. An Englewood resident, he has just launched "This World: The Jewish Values Network."